With the World Cup in South Africa around the corner, the BBC is whetting audience appetites through a special season called the “Wonderful Africa Season“. It is billed as “a wide ranging season of films looking at the arts and culture, life and landscape of Africa in advance of this year’s World Cup”, and as might have been expected, a lot of the programs focus on South Africa. Some highlights include a celebration of Hugh Masekela’s 70th birthday, called ‘Welcome to South Africa’ and the stimulating ‘Tutu Talks’ in which the big man assembles panels of experts to discuss topics such as Aid from the West, gender rights in Africa and whether religion is a help or a hindrance to African development.

A pleasant surprise was the documentary ‘South Africa in Pictures’, in which the British fashion photographer Rankin sets out on ‘his own personal journey’ to understand South Africa through the eyes of some of the country’s leading photographers.  His journey includes interviews with the culture/fashion photographer Nontsikelelo Veleko (above in a shot by Rankin), the documentary photographer without equal David Goldblatt and he pays the obligatory homage to the Bang-Bang Club by way of Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva.

I expected another touristy puff piece, but was surprised by Rankin’s openness, his rapport with fellow photographers and the enthusiasm with which he devoured a range of topics – from the highly stylized studio photographs sent home by migrant laborers in the 1960s, the harsh memories as well as the social contradictions of the apartheid era, the youth fashion movement called Smarties, and even literally immersing himself in a river with Marinovich to record a river baptism outside Johannesburg. And as you may expect, the documentary itself is beautifully filmed.

Catch if it you can this Sunday on BBC Four at 23.30, or on iPlayer, if you have access.

— Herman Wasserman